When A Dream Comes Alive…


Caption: Some of Donda’s House staff, volunteers and alumni at our Spring 2015 Auditions.

I woke up this morning, with Dr. Donda West on my mind. Dr. Donda West, is the woman who Donda’s House Inc. is named after. I always run into people whose life she impacted… new promoters who she gave a contract to. PH.D candidates who she co-presented at conferences with… young artists who she served as a surrogate mom to. I collect these stories & they cover my spirit like a quilt… A constant reminder of why Donda’s House Inc. was founded in the first place…

We are 19 months old now. I just prepared a Programming Update for our Programming Committee Co-Chairs and was brought to tears thinking about how far we’ve come. Common, in a speech at St. Sabina talked about how the higher the altitude the more difficult it is to breathe. But as you climb higher, you can see more clearly the top of the mountaintop. It’s important to look around and enjoy the view. The vision, is for Donda’s House to exist in every low-income community around the world. A safe space for youth to hang-out, learn, imagine and build new pathways. We’ve been working so hard, that we haven’t had a chance to stop and look around.

I am happy to say that we currently have free programs being offered in music, visual art, acting & film. We are working on programs in fashion, production and sound engineering, and photography. I know for certain the spirit of Dr. Donda West is alive and well in the work that we do and as we advocate & lobby for more support and resources for our students, I can certainly see the peak of the mountaintop.

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What’s Wrong With The Phrase “Power Couple?”


Caption: Photo by Juan Anthony Images

Every time I hear the words “power couple” I cringe. Whether someone calls my husband and I that, or I hear someone else use those words, it never quite sits well with me. When it comes to “power,” I cannot help but think about the opposite end of the spectrum – disempower. There are many words that I love to claim… peace… balance… happiness… success., but “power” has never been on my list of desired characteristics or character traits. “Power” implies a separation from the people. It implies that someone (or a group of people) has “it” and others (usually a large group of people) don’t. I’m not interested in separating myself from people in that way. I don’t want people to look at me & think that I have something (power) that they do not…

Now don’t get me wrong… I do believe in influence… I do believe in platforms… I do believe in spokespersons… but all of those terms seem to be more communal in nature… Less aggressive… Less absolute… Less rigid… and even influence, platforms and spokespersons should be cushioned in community, owned by the people and treated with grace, humility and responsibility.

I’m much more interested in being an EMPOWERED Couple… I believe that my physical frame is just that. A temporary “uniform” to house my soul & my energy. “Power” in my opinion comes from God and God EMPOWERS us to do what he needs/wants us to do. I did not wake myself up this morning… I did not have the POWER to do that. As the Executive Director of a non-profit, the students that I serve and the team that I belong to EMPOWERS me by ALLOWING me to serve as a midwife to their dreams and goals. That POWER belongs to them, so they EMPOWER me… Our TEAM is one in which everyone feels EMPOWERED to do whatever needs to be done to fulfill our mission. It’s not beholden to one individual (including me).

To me EMPOWERMENT is a much healthier descriptor of who we are and what we stand for. It is much more symbiotic than hierarchical. It is much more accessible than hoarded and hidden. We need more empowered couples if we want to have healthier relationships/marriages, healthier families and healthier communities. #EMPOWEREDCOUPLE

Speaking of empowering, check out my hubby’s new website: WhoIsRhymefest.com designed by one of our Donda’s House alums Hex Hectic!

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Happy 5th Year Anniversary Che!!!

Donnie and Che
Caption: Our first photo together ever, the first weekend that we met in person after a month of talking on the phone. January of 2009. Che actually came to visit & speak to my class at Whitney Young!
I think it’s totally appropriate and kind of symbolic that our five year Wedding Anniversary is on Election Day! When we met on Twitter in January of 2009, I never knew that behind that @rhymefest Twitter handle was my future best friend and husband. Today is also especially important, because we were both married before to other people for 5 years – so this is a huge milestone for us!

5 Things You Said That I’ll Never Forget

1. “Forget choose your battles! Choose your enemies, because then you already know what battles are ahead of you.”
2. “The definition of revolution is love.”
3. “Sometimes we have to be the blade that sharpens the steel.”
4. “You’re not a girlfriend, you’re a wife. You’re going to be my wife.”
5. “Everybody wants to be “hot,” but what’s “hot” eventually cools off. I want to be dope, because dope lasts forever.”

5 Adventures I’ll Never Forget

1. Horseback riding in Florida, when our horses decided to take off running fast and we had to hold on for dear life.
2. Being angry about the state of our community (which was Washington Park) and deciding that we could do better and launching our Campaign for Alderman of the 20th Ward less than one year after being married! That campaign was a hell of a honeymoon lol!
3. When you used to do the “VS” game on Twitter before we started talking on the phone. I used to break my neck to participate, everyday around 5 or 5:30 p.m. CST.
4. Driving around Beverly Hills & Santa Monica in the Camaro with the top down.
5. The water fights we used to have in our first apartment together.

5 Things I Love About You

1. How much you give of yourself, your talent and your time to others.
2. Your laugh and your sense of humor. We have so many inside jokes that sometimes all you have to do is look at me and I know exactly what you’re thinking.
3. Your creativity. You are the KING of ideas!
4. Your masculinity. Your motorcycle riding! The base in your voice. Your collection of Timbs.
5. Your mind. You have a beautiful mind. You are so reflective. You know so much about the world because you’ve traveled the world. I love hearing your stories about getting lost in Palestine, seeing Civil Rights murals in Northern Ireland, riding the train and eating Pigeon in London. I never tire of hearing you tell stories!

5 Things I’m Looking Forward To

1. Going half on a baby at some point in the future. We have three little angels in heaven that will one day carry our baby (or babies) into this world safely. I can’t wait to see what he/she/they get(s) from me and what he/she/they get(s) from you.
2. Traveling. We have so much fun when we travel. We don’t worry about money, or time, we just go & do & feel & experience.
3. Our projects. We have so many seeds that we’re watering and feeding. I’m excited to see the fruit & the plants flourish.
4. Our children & one day grandchildren grow up. I can’t wait to see my bonus (step) babies grow up and become their own forces of nature on the world.
5. “Raising” Donda’s House into a full-grown, international organization for young creatives.

5 Ways that You’ve Impacted Me

1. You’ve supported me as I’ve made the transition from a traditional job to a social entrepreneur.
2. You’ve helped me to be better at debate & helped me step outside of my comfort zone on so many occasions. Outside of the comfort zone is where true growth happens.
3. You’ve shown me that two broken and hurt people can create a beautiful, powerful whole! We patched each other up and loved each other to health.
4. Because of you I know that God is real. Our love is miracle, and God sent us to each other to help keep us on the path that he set out for us. While our love is amazing and the greatest gift I’ve ever received, I know that it doesn’t stop there. We were sent here for something far greater than just loving each other.
5. When I look at before Che & after Che photos and journal entries I realize that I’m a better woman today! A more confident, acne-free, smaller, happier woman. I’m a reflection of you, and you are a reflection of God, and I’m so grateful for these last five years.
To Forever!!!! I love you baby!
Yours Always,
Donnie Nicole Smith


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“Dying Roses” by Che “Rhymefest” Smith


Guest post by Che “Rhymefest” Smith. Follow him here: https://twitter.com/rhymefest

Leaving 2014 there were so many signs of change on the horizon.
Political and Social upheaval happening locally, nationally and worldwide.
Acts of Terrorism, Protests, Police brutality, Political Changing of Gaurds, and constantly evolving technologies daring all of us to keep up.
I have no doubt coming into 2015 the pace at which the world is moving is entirely to fast for those of us who are trying to make it through another day.
Recently I’ve been witnessing the effects of this complex world on the people I love.
Men and Women, Friends and Family.
Every day I get a call or text about sadness, confusion, loneliness depression and even thoughts of suicide.
I’m not a therapist or professional and admittedly unqualified to deal with such burdens in a way that can give sustainable treatment.
I am however a good friend, who will not abandon you, nor enable you to continue feeling sorry for yourself.
My loved ones all have so much going for them and panic over what they perceive is missing.
Many of them don’t even know what’s missing which creates even more loneliness and anxiety.
I see friends and family who try to replace personal emptiness with sexual partners, drugs, religion, Money, careers and even seclusion.
2015 should be the year we protect our spirits.
There is an Attack taking place on good people. It’s trying to enter our homes our family members and us.
Be vigilant and fight back with kind acts, selflessness and socializing with other good people.

1) Anxiety- try to calm down, breathe deep and slow. If it’s to bad please go to urgent care and see a doctor.

2) Depression- don’t debate the judge in your head he wants you to engage him so he can convince you you’re not as good and capable as you know you are. He only knocks for 30-60 seconds before he goes away find a something to take your mind away when he comes to judge. You can win every time.

3) Loneliness- find a social group or hobby get out the house. Internet will make you more depressed find a group of real people to collaborate with.

4) Suicidal Thoughts- don’t emotionally minipulate others for attention this is the worst thing you can do! It’s Despicable. suicide is an act of temporary insanity and if you feel that way please go consult a professional. Your friends and family can’t help you. You need a professional.

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Coming Up For Air Really Quick


Hey everyone! I hope all is well. Can you believe that there are only 2 days left of this month?

I’ve been working a lot professionally. This month has been all about fundraising, proposal writing, and preparing for our Spring 2015 Programs. For the first time ever, we are launching two cohorts at once, a program for High School Students and a program for 18+. We welcomed two new staff members, and have been working on a lot of our internal communication systems. I start my days at about 9 or 10 in the morning and lately have been working until 12 midnight.

In terms of balance, I try to have at least one day a week where I don’t leave my house. I still work – conference calls, applications and proposals, etc., but I do so from the comfort of my home at least one day a week. Since our programming is after school and on Saturdays, we have events on one or two Saturdays next month, and one of our classes will meet on Saturday afternoons. I have reserved Sundays for family time. My in-loves (we don’t use the term in-laws) recently moved closer to Chicago, so I try to spend at least my Sunday afternoons and evenings with them.

I did discover a few new tools that I want to share:

We are using Formstack https://www.formstack.com to manage our applications and other important forms. It’s not a free tool but it is reliable, has really strong analytics. Every time we release apps, we’ve used a different tool. Formstack is very popular with other organizations.

I am now using Calendly to help schedule meetings. Basically, you have your own appointment page, and it syncs with your Google Calendar. Rather than going back and forth with someone on availability, I can simply send them a link to my Calendly based on my availability and the meeting can be scheduled without much hassle. Here its he link: https://calendly.com. Calendly is free and low cost.

I shared this beauty on my Instagram Page:

Be Fabulous 2

I’ve never seen a desktop wallpaper that allows you to separate files. I downloaded it for free here: http://www.abowlfulloflemons.net/2014/03/a-fabulously-organized-desktop.html.

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I’m The January 2015 Skinless Project Inspirational Woman?!

Incredibly honored and humbled to share that I have been selected as the January 2015 Skinless Project Inspirational Woman!


You are the executive director of Donda’s House. Tell us about the initiative?

Donda’s House Inc. was created by Kanye West, Che “Rhymefest” Smith and myself to provide access to premium arts instruction to youth. We were named after Dr. Donda West, the mother of Kanye, who was an educator for 30+ years. She understood the value of literacy, and prior to her death, she wanted to put a state of the art recording studio in High Schools across the country. To date we have serviced over 115 youth, and we add new youth every semester to our initiatives!

Why was such a program a necessity in the areas where you operate?

Arts education & programming is routinely the first thing to go when schools and governments face budget crisis. There is also a push toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) often at the sacrifice of the arts. Donda’s House is a necessity, because we know that youth who study the arts have more positive life outcomes. They are critical and creative thinkers, problem solvers and have higher self-confidence and esteem.

You are a inspiration in yourself, tell us about your personal story – why focus on at risk youth?

At-risk youth, often to no fault of their own miss out on certain things – the love of two parents in a healthy relationship, quality food which fuels health and a quality education which is the passport to a better future. If those of us who have overcome challenges, can be a source of support, inspiration and guidance, we can make up for those deficits. I used to run track in High School, and sometimes if one of my teammates ran a poor leg, the rest of us had to make up for it to try to win the race. My personal mission in life is to find those children and help them make up for whatever losses or hurdles they have trouble clearing.

 Do you feel you have beaten the odds?

Interestingly enough, I feel there are always odds to beat. I overcame certain challenges by earning a college education, marrying the love of my life and raising our children in a two parent household but there are new challenges. As long as there are children who aren’t eating, who are being abused by the ones they love and neglected by systemic and generational neglect, there are still more odds I have to beat.

As a society – what can we do to improve the chances of success for these children?

Everyone has the power to do something. In some cases, it may be a donation (to a tax deductible organization), in other cases it may be volunteering one’s expertise or time. Everyone has the ability to do something. America as a society is one big village and we are only as strong as our weakest link. We have to unite and support each other so that we can collectively face our challenges as a country.

Finally – you have changed your pain into power   – how did you do it Donnie?

Faith is my lifeline. I don’t believe that my birth was an accident, nor do I believe that my pain was an accident. I try to take every single thing – good or bad in stride and use it as fuel to leave this world better than I came into it.

Check out the entire interview & feature here: http://skinlessproject.com/inspirational-woman-january-2015-donnie-smith-2/

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Don’t Squeeze The Life Out Of Your Partner or Relationship…

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my husband, with my friends and with family members about dating and marriage. One of the things that I said was don’t confuse possessiveness OR clinginess with love and attention. In my first marriage that ended in divorce after 5 years, my ex husband didn’t have any friends or interests outside of our relationship. That was a recipe for disaster, because anything that “competed” with him for my attention was dismissed or frowned upon, even if it was healthy.

When my current husband and I started dating, we talked about how sometimes a person can squeeze something so tight that it squeezes the life out of it.


Don’t get me wrong… quality one-on-one time is very important in a relationship. My husband and I go on a date alone at least once a week and we try to take a vacation outside of Chicago for a week every year.

A healthy relationship and marriage should be one where you are allowed to evolve and grow. Speak to your partner regularly about his/her goals, and try to support him/her in those goals. Of course, you don’t want to support him/her in their goals if it is something that will harm them (e.g. my husband is diabetic, so I’m not going to support him going to an all you can eat dessert bar or event). Our identities are multilayered. We can be lovers or spouses, and parents… but we can also be entrepreneurs, ministers and volunteers. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a person who wants to stay at home to take care of the kids, but I do think there is something wrong if someone feels forced to stay at home and take care of the kids. It’s also normal at the beginning of a relationship to be “addicted” to each other. It’s so exciting to feel a deep connection with someone that you’re attracted to, especially if one of your life goals is to get married, or find a monogamous relationship, but don’t lose sight of your dreams, your goals and your path, for the sake of a relationship. Speaking from experience that usually ends in something negative… the end of a relationship. The end of your happiness. or worse, the end of who you truly are…

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